At the time of this writing, 233 AIA member firms have committed to reducing energy consumption by 60 percent from the current national average before the year 2030. Introduced in 2010, the AIA 2030 Commitment provides AIA firms with online reporting tools to record the predicted energy use intensity (PEUI) of their building and interior designs. It compares their projects’ intended energy use to data in the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), a national sample prepared by the U.S. Energy Information Agency that collects actual energy consumption data on privately owned commercial buildings. For project types not found in CBECS, the AIA 2030 Commitment uses tools such as Labs21 and Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS).

But it’s been a slow start for the 2030 Commitment. While there is consensus across the profession that energy efficiency is a worthwhile enterprise, the day-to-day tasks of tracking energy efficiency from the design phase through the first decade of a building’s life is daunting. Kelly Pickard, director of building science and technology at the AIA, is eager to correct that idea by noting that the 2030 Commitment was designed to help firms, not hinder them.

“The purpose of the reporting process is to help guide firms to use the data to improve the outcomes of projects,” Pickard says.

Firms seem to be getting the picture, though. For 2011, 104 AIA member firms submitted reports—almost double the number submitted in 2010—and the total gross square footage of projects jumped from 384.9 million gross square feet in 2010 to 656.2 million gross square feet in 2011.

Pickard credits the uptick to a better understanding of the initiative’s intent and reporting procedures. “The program has become a common language for firms to talk to—and learn from—each other about their experiences,” she says.

SmithGroupJJR has 10 offices nationwide, and the common language of sustainability had to be learned by hundreds of employees across dozens of projects. Once the firm adopted the 2030 Commitment, however, it was able to mine its own projects for metrics they wouldn’t have necessarily noticed.“Having predicted energy use data for all of our projects allowed us to see areas where we were making more progress than others,” says Greg Mella, AIA, a sustainable design expert with SmithGroupJJR—one of the first firms to sign on to the initiative. “We sorted the data by office as well as program type to see if there were trends or differences between results.

“Knowing where our weaknesses were allowed us to target those areas for improvement,” Mella says.

Making the Case

As buildings are the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, setting and following metrics to significantly reduce energy usage from reported current norms helps architectural firms become carbon-neutral. Plenty of green certification programs and local and state energy codes address individual buildings, but until the 2030 Commitment there was no mechanism to measure how firms design across their entire practice. Now that there is a mechanism, the new challenge is how to address firm culture.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” says Stacey White, AIA, a principal of mode associates in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Together with Andrea Pease, AIA, a principal with InBalance Green Consulting, she helped inspire 11 of AIA Central Coast’s 58 member firms to make the commitment. “I think there is a hesitancy to dive in, but once one realizes that it can—and should—be simple, implementing the required actions is a relatively minor undertaking and can have a ripple effect of benefits,” White says.

Implementation is not just about logistics, however. It’s also about slowly shifting the center of firm culture. “Sustainable design is still considered to be a specialized expertise in a lot of firms,” says Mike Davis, FAIA, a principal at Boston-based Bergmeyer Associates. “Getting outside your standard corporate mission to help transform an industry and address the crisis of global climate change is a very tall order.”

With the 2030 Commitment, AIA members extend their focus beyond more energy-efficient building designs and also report on efforts to reduce their own office energy use, waste, and travel. In his blog (, Davis reports on an energy waste-stream audit where he found that discarded supplier samples, such as tiles and flooring, constituted 58 percent of his firm’s trash.

“Our sample library now has a special rule,” he says. “If someone brings us a catalog or new sample, they must take the old ones back. Product reps and suppliers are now part of our 2030 plan, too.”

As more firms report their findings, a body of shared knowledge with tactics like these has begun to emerge. The AIA has published several completed sustainability action plans on its 2030 Commitment site, and the Institute plans to conduct a research effort this fall on what’s working and what’s not.

One lesson already seems clear to Davis. “Sustainability is not about technology, it’s about changing our behavior,” he says.

“We are now thinking differently about sustainable design, and we no longer have so-called green building specialists or consider it an additional service,” Davis says. “We understand the necessity to improve our entire firm’s capacity to think sustainably.”

To learn more about the 2030 Commitment, visit